Samsung 980 PRO PCI Express 4.0 NVMe SSD Review
Samsung Enters the PCI-E 4.0 Arena
Samsung is releasing their first PCI Express 4.0 SSD with the 980 PRO, the latest iteration of the venerable high-end storage line last updated with 2018’s 970 PRO NVMe SSD, which launched alongside the 970 EVO.
We expect high performance from Samsung NVMe drives, with the 970 PRO and EVO drives offering “class-leading overall performance,” according to a certain former storage editor. And with the 980 PRO there is a significant difference in overall makeup – other than the new PCIe Gen4 Samsung-designed controller (Elpis). What is it? The NAND itself, which is described as “3-bit MLC” (TLC).
A Samsung PRO drive with TLC? Yes, the 980 PRO has adopted an EVO-like design, with its TLC NAND and a Turbo Cache 2.0 implementation that uses a portion of available NAND to speed up performance. EVO-like makeup notwithstanding, this is a “pro” drive, with professional-level features including AES 256-bit full disk encryption.
Optimized for handling data-intensive applications, the 980 PRO is ideal for consumers and professionals who work with 4K and 8K content and play graphics-heavy games. All of the key components, including the custom Elpis controller, V-NAND and DRAM, are completely designed in-house to deliver the full potential of PCIe 4.0. This allows the 980 PRO to provide sequential read and write speeds of up to 7,000 MB/s and 5,000 MB/s respectively, as well as random read and write speeds of up to 1,000K IOPS, making it up to two times faster than PCIe 3.0 SSDs and up to 12.7 times faster than SATA SSDs.
The New Elpis Controller
As this is a Samsung product, the controller is fully custom – meaning this launches as the only PCIe Gen4 drive on the market that does not implement a Phison controller, PS5016-E16 or otherwise (the new E18 has just been launched). Of course this controller is all new, as Samsung built this product to take advantage of the added bandwidth provided by PCI Express 4.0.
The Elpis controller is able to process 128 I/O (Input and Output) queues simultaneously, about 4 times more than the previous Phoenix controller (32 queues). One single queue can consist of 64 thousand command sets, meaning a total of 128 queues can process over 8 million commands. To satisfy modern needs for high performance without compromising power efficiency, the controller was manufactured using an extremely fine 8nm process.
If only I could channel my inner Malventano to interpret the significance of these supporting queue numbers! Alas, I can only move on to the next section – and eventually test out the drive, of course.
Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0
The SLC cache from the EVO series makes its way to the PRO line with this release, with the new TurboWrite 2.0 that can dynamically use up to 5x the available NAND capacity of the 970 EVO.
980 PRO features newly enhanced Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0 technology. Compared to the previous Intelligent TurboWrite, Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0 provides up to 5 times larger buffer (TurboWrite region). With the 1TB model, for example, the pre-allocated (default) TurboWrite region is 6GB, and it can also allocate an additional 108GB to be used as a dynamic SLC buffer to increase the total SLC buffer to 114GB. The performance of PCIe 4.0 can be experienced under large workloads without declining performance.
For our 500GB review sample the default SLC cache is just 4GB, but this can dynamically increase up to 90GB in size, as long as there is sufficient free space on the drive. Performance is significantly lower without this TurboWrite cache, with the 5000 MB/s max sequential writes dropping to just 1000 MB/s without it.
As far as sustained performance is concerned, Samsung states that “in terms of duration, Intelligent TurboWrite 2.0 can be sustained for 26 seconds, approximately 92% longer than the 13 seconds of the previous Intelligent TurboWrite”, which was found in the 970 EVO Plus (and not the 970 PRO).
Enhanced Thermal Solution
Rather than going with a heatsink, as we have seen with some Gen4 drives implementing the first-gen Phison controller, Samsung is making use of a combination of a nickel-coated controller and copper heatspreader found under the bottom label.
The relatively weaker point of a small M.2 NVMe SSD may be thermal problems. Under extreme workloads, many users worry about performance drops due to heat generation. The 980 PRO mitigates this problem by adopting a heat spreader, a nickel coating on the Elpis controller, and sophisticatedly tuned firmware with advanced Dynamic Thermal Guard (DTG) technology. This trinity of excellent technologies helps prevent overheating by dissipating heat faster to maintain outstanding performance specifications.
Samsung states that with this new design “up to 36% more data (108GB) can be transferred during sequential writes until the DTG point than in the 970 EVO Plus”, with DTG referring to the “Dynamic Thermal Guard” that controls throttling under sustained workloads – depending on the thermal situation.
Here is what can only be described as a quick, high-level look at the performance of this new 980 PRO SSD. The results presented here require the disclaimer that our sample is 500GB, while the only other PCIe Gen4 drive on hand is a 2TB CORSAIR MP600 (Phison E16). There is a SLIGHT capacity difference, in other words.
|PC Perspective Test Platforms|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi (X570)
BIOS 2206, AGESA V2 PI 188.8.131.52
|Memory||G.Skill Flare X 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200 14-14-14-34 @ 1.35V|
|GPU||Palit GeForce GTX 1050 Ti KalmX (Passive)|
|Storage||Samsung SSD 850 EVO 1TB|
|Power Supply||CORSAIR RM1000x 1000W|
|Operating System||Windows 10 64-bit Version 1909, November 2019 Update (Build 18363.592)|
The second, larger disclaimer is that I am not Allyn Malventano. I don’t even play him on a podcast. I can offer some basic benchmarking since I have have access to a drive, and hopefully provide a bit of data that might help potential buyers.
In the sequential tests Samsung’s 980 PRO is faster in both the read and write results, and will again draw the reader’s attention to the fact that this Samsung 980 PRO has a capacity of just 500GB – with larger drives generally offering better write speeds (all things being equal).
Moving on to 4K random now, with single and 16-thread performance. 1T first:
The Samsung 980 PRO offers fantastic read performance here, but can’t best the 2TB MP600 in the write tests (once again, 2TB capacity is quite an advantage).
Now the 4K 16T results:
Samsung’s superior performance at lower queue depths (QD1, QD2) is on full display here in the read tests, with large gains over the Phison E16-controlled MP600. This Corsair drive does quite well in the write tests, finishing slightly ahead overall.
Next up with have an older test, but Anvil’s Storage Utilities still offers interesting data, with performance under different workloads paired with response time metrics for each.
Pictured Above: Samsung 980 PRO Results
The 980 PRO offers outstanding performance, though it’s worth noting that write performance (influenced no doubt by the massive 4x capacity advantage) is occasionally higher with the MP600.
Pictured Above: Corsair MP600 Results
And now for a look at a sustained linear transfer, generated using AIDA64’s Disk Benchmark. The Samsung 980 PRO is first:
With average sustained performance of 5656.8 MB/s in the lengthy linear read test, we see a drive that is certainly capable of faster speeds than an SSD implementing Phison’s E16 controller, which is next:
Here the MP600 manages an average of 2863.8 MB/s in this sustained test. Just from this result we can safely determine that, depending on the workload, the Samsung 980 PRO is capable of nearly doubling the performance of our CORSAIR MP600 drive.
Samsung’s new 980 PRO offers transfer speeds far beyond existing PCIe Gen4 drives, pushing sequential transfer speeds very close to the rated 7000 MB/s (6900 MB/s for this 500GB variant). And while this represents a major leap over the ~5000 MB/s of Phison-powered Gen4 NVMe options on the current market, Samsung does face some stiff competition this generation with the upcoming Phison E18 controller found in the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus.
In our quick testing the Samsung 980 PRO offered excellent performance, though it is challenging to really push an SSD with this level of throughput capability outside of synthetic benchmarks. How many real-world scenarios can handle transfer speeds in excess of 6700 MB/s? Once a significant bottleneck, storage is evolving quickly, though very few products exist that can leverage the capabilities of modern standards.
The most interesting aspect of the 980 PRO – in this author’s opinion – is the adoption of the design methodology previously reserved for Samsung’s consumer EVO SSD lineup. Gone is the 2-bit MLC, with 3-bit NAND (usually called TLC, but referred to as 3-bit MLC in Samsung’s documentation for the 980 PRO) finding its way into a PRO drive for the first time.
Along with this change to TLC comes the inclusion of SLC caching, with the new TurboWrite 2.0 implemented here offering larger, dynamically-allocated areas compared to the 970 EVO, in addition to static SLC cache. The controller is new, of course, with Samsung’s own 8nm Elpis controller making use of both the above-mentioned 6th gen V-NAND 3-bit MLC and between 512MB and 2GB of LPDDR4 DRAM cache memory, depending on drive capacity.
Samsung is releasing the 980 PRO in 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB capacities, with a 2TB variant on the way as well. As to pricing, the 980 PRO MSRPs start at $89.99 for the 250GB model, $149.99 for the 500GB model, and $229.99 for the 1TB model (2TB pricing/availability TBA).
Overall this is an impressive entry into the PCI-E 4.0 realm for Samsung, with the move to 3-bit NAND, however logical, a little disappointing for a product with the PRO name. We’re living in a TLC/QLC world now, and Samsung’s adoption of 3-bit NAND for their flagship likely signals the end of 2-bit MLC in consumer drives.
This disclosure statement covers the way the product being reviewed was obtained and the relationship between the product's manufacturer and PC Perspective.
How Product Was Obtained
The drive is on loan from Samsung for the purpose of this review.
What Happens To Product After Review
The drive remains the property of Samsung but will be on extended loan to PC Perspective for the purpose of future testing and product comparisons.
Samsung provided the product sample and technical brief to PC Perspective but had no control over the content of the review and was not consulted prior to publication.
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Neither PC Perspective nor any of its staff were paid or compensated in any way by Samsung for this review.
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